Every employee now has the right to request flexible working – but what impact does this have on you as a small business? For Ian Cowley, Managing Director of www.cartridgesave.co.uk, who introduced it as a staff benefit more than five years ago it’s been hugely positive. He shares his experience.
“We initially introduced flexible working five years ago for our programmers. We saw it as a benefit that would help us to attract the best candidates. Given how difficult it is to recruit within that field, we felt it was a perk that would appeal to their lifestyle – traditionally of late morning and late nights. For us, it was not only a great benefit to add to our recruitment package but it also came with low overheads. Staff could self-monitor time using a simple IT system. All round, it was win-win.
“It proved successful. So much so that we have since rolled it out to all our technical departments. Again the overheads are low. We operate a clocking-in system that allows each team member to continually assess the time and credit they have. Plus, the policy is clear. The terms are stipulated in a one-pager within the company handbook, which forms part of their contract.
“We decided to extend because we want our staff to be happy. We offer it as a bonus and overwhelmingly, it is seen as a benefit they wouldn’t get in other companies and therefore something to respect. It helps that we have realistic view on work.
“Firstly we know that just because you’re at your desk between 9 to 5, it doesn’t mean you’ll work every single one of those minutes you’re glued to your desk. Clock-watching your employees doesn’t necessarily make them more efficient. Secondly flexible working works in our industry because we don’t expect people to do more than their contracted hours. It’s not like the creative world where long hours are part and parcel of the career. It hasn’t impacted on productivity. Thirdly keeping staff motivated is crucial as in most cases it’s a job, not a passion. Therefore anything we can do to make their working hours fit in with their lives is important.
“Around three-quarters of our eligible staff opt in. About half like to start earlier, the other 50% like to come later – and almost across the board it’s primarily embraced to miss traffic! However, it also allows them to manage their time around doctors appointments and school sports days, without them eating into my time asking for permission.
“We do stipulate that staff are present each day for set cover hours though. This means that the office is always adequately managed and we don’t get into a situation where staff clock up a free day each week. Instead the maximum complete day off they can claim is one a month.
“We can’t offer flexible working to everyone. It doesn’t work for our customer service staff for example whose hours are set, really, by customer demand. However we always ensure we explain why and this is accepted as part and parcel of their job.
“The only cons occur when staff struggle to manage their own time. For example, if your set cover hours start at 10am, it becomes the new ‘9 o’clock’. Meaning the usual suspects dribble in at 10.09am and it’s hard to keep this time sacred.
“A tiny percentage has got behind on their hours and they find themselves in a situation where they have to catch up by pulling long shifts. In the end, one worker had to use up holiday to return his hours to neutral.
“To sum up though flexible working can be hugely beneficial. For a small business it is a great perceived bonus that is motivational, helps to retain good staff and comes with a low overhead if managed from the outset to suit your requirements (e.g. set cover-hours). Like I said earlier – win-win – just think about what works for you and clearly outline in a formal policy.”